Tokyo Ghoul 2 – 04

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Tokyo Ghoul combines lots of concepts and themes familiar to me through other shows, animated or not, and elaborates upon, improves, or polishes them to a sheen, resulting in an end product that is greater than the sum of those appropriated parts. Four shows that came to mind were The X-Files, Battlestar Galactica (the newer one), and Bleach. A strange trio, I know.

First, this episode started out like X-Files, what with the odd-couple investigators diving into a dark secret-of-the week. Amon mirrored Mulder in the bearing of his traumatic event from the past that shaped the man he is today: having to pay a visit to a ghoul who once ran the orphanage where Amon grew up. Akira is Scully, questioning why they’re even there and turning out to be right about it probably being a bad idea.

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That’s because the day they’ve come to the Ghoul internment facility is the same day Aogiri Tree planned a massive attack, turning the quiet detective episode into an all-out spectacle. Few shows did bold spectacles better than Battlestar, and the creepily-cloaked Aogiri forces massing atop the prison, then descending upon the norma-looking prison guards below, reminded me of a swarm of implacable Cylon raiders going in for the kill. This is going to be a bad day for many many people.

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One place where Koutarou and Akira definitely have Mulder and Scully beat is in the combat department, as neither embarrass themselves in the heated battle against those swarms. Akira just happened to be unlucky enough to come afoul of the childish yet lethal Naki, who bites her in the leg and renders her a non-factor for the duration.

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It’s the doves fighting with their quinques and the masked ghouls fighting with their kagunes…well that’s just Shinigami with their Zanpakutos versus Arrancar with their Resurrection. The difference being, in Bleach, battles were often handled one at a time, and at a very deliberate pace, often stretching several episodes. TG compresses and distills the elaborate character and weapon designs and myriad battles into one bonanza of an episode with a lot more going on.

Then it has matchups that are clever, if unexpected, vehicles for fleshing out characters, like the black and white twins bumping into Suzu (who they know somehow) or Ayato facing his father…in the form of Shinohara’s armor.

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This is also just a good bonding experience for Koutarou and Akira, with the former invoking the words of the latter’s father about not letting up the fight even if you lose your arms and legs…the Black Knight mentality. Koutarou insists Akira not give up, and climb onto his shoulders while he handles the numerous but uncoordinated and fairly weak Aogiri third-stringers.

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Ken, meanwhile calmly walks about the facility, unfazed by everything around him. His role in the mission is limited to releasing a high-security captive in “Mr. Shachi.” You’d think he’d be grateful for being sprung, but he smells Rize on Ken and they initiate the fight that’s the centerpiece of the second half of the episode. These are two tough customers, but Ken is still inexperienced, and Shachi essentially toys with him.

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Even so, there’s a kind of inevitability to this fight, as if Ken was meant to be beaten senseless so that he can awaken an even stronger version of himself. He certainly seems to be on board with that, as he knows everyone he cares about (his “liabilities”) will die unless he get stronger. Eto stops Kamishiro from continuing his onslaught, while Ken sprouts a new and even more unsettling mask, something I can’t help but think Eto intended to happen.

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Tokyo Ghoul 2 – 03

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I know, it’s early, but Tokyo Ghoul Root A has the makings of a rare sequel that surpases the original. It’s firing on all cylinders, both in  Ghoul/Dove conflict and in making us feel every inch of agonizing distance between people who were once so close and familiar they used to get on each other’s nerves. So much has changed, but people keep on keeping on with varying degrees of success.

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TG2 has also proven more adept than most shows at juggling a cast that was stupendously huge before all the new intros. It’s mixed things up wonderfully these past two episodes, and made interesting connections and re-connections between disparate characters, lending a sense of community.

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The characters aren’t having a sprawling or blurring effect I want to distance myself from; on the contrary, they’re drawing me in even closer. The conflux of characters in every shade of moral and mental gray, dotted will well-thought-out, punchy action set pieces like the opening attack on the police convoy (which black-and-white one-eyed sisters use to test Ken’s strength), and a script that crackles with poise, all set to a captivating soundtrack, and you see what I mean about all cylinders.

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As “Eyepatch” trashes police convoys and makes it on the news, we’re reminded Touka isn’t the only one he left behind; Hinami has a big-bro-shaped hole in her life now, and can’t help but talk about him, even though Touka rather wouldn’t. The next morning, she’s surprised to find Hinami all dolled up going out by herself (sort of; she has a chaperone) to a Takatsuki Sen book-signing. Hinami doesn’t want Touka to worry about her.

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When Nishiki stops by the cafe, he offers to show Touka Kamii University, where she’s thinking of attending herself. Little things like the fact she won’t stand out by not eating appeal to her, but it isn’t long until Ken’s dumb, innocent staring back at her: a wanted poster; a symbol that he can’t come back even if he wanted to anymore.

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Her heart sinks, but Hideyoshi, who’s been on the periphery of the show so far, steps in to help lift her spirits anyway he can. It’s been a while since these two have seen each other, but just hanging out with someone else who used to be close to Ken, whom she doesn’t have to put a brave face on for (like Hinami) comforts Touka. I particularly love this line by Hide:

“Come to think of it, he once had the lead part in a play! He was surprisingly good, too. He was quite an imposing presence on the stage. Whether it was him playing a part, or him putting on a mask, he always seemed to be saddled with things all unto himself.”

Hinami wanted Touka to reassure her that there must be a good reason Ken left. Hide helps restore a little hope in Touka’s heart that that is indeed the case.

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If Ken is putting on a grudging act, he’s playing a dangerous game, because between B&W and Eto, he still knows very little about his new Aogiri comrades. As for Eto…we finally see her unmasked in the most unexpected place: the book signing Hinami is attending! Turns out she’s the author Takatsuki Sen.

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I picked up on this fact because I recognized Sakamoto Maaya’s voice, and the camera was settling on the lower part of her grinning face, as it did at the end of last week’s episode. To have Eto sign a book she wrote for Hinami as a gift to Ken, the very guy she’s become interested in, is one of those awesome connections that feels both spontaneous and logical.

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Another interesting connection is Hide, whose delivery job affords him access to the CCG station, where he uses his friendly personality to get as much info on the eyepatch case out of Seido as he can (for what purpose I can’t yet fathom) until he’s shut down by a suspicious Akira. Though, to be fair, Akira is suspicious about everyone…but she’s also brilliant, and Natural Police, and Hide better watch himself, because I’m sure she’s watching him from here on out.

Oh yeah, Juuzou is given a new quinque, a huge scythe made from the deceased Jason which he names “Juuzou’s Jason.” Certainly not the most imaginative name, but it’s a frighteningly powerful weapon. Akira and Juuzou are cerebral and physical reminders that the Doves may have taken their licks, but they’re far from toothless in this fight.

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Such is the stength of the case right now, Ken only needs to show up in a couple brief scenes to be effective. Here, we see him take it upon himself to help the late Yamori’s inconsolable underling write the name “Yamori” properly. For some reason I was reminded of when he used to tutor Hinami.

Back at CCG, it’s not Akira who reaches a breakthrough in the case, but Saido (with considerable assistance from Houji). They determine through news reports and such that Eyepatch is Kaneki Ken, a Kamii University student who was injured by falling girders and given organ transplants without his consent from the woman beyond saving he was with at the time of the accident.

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With the Doves now hotter on Ken’s trail than ever, Hide studies the wanted signs he took down on campus, lamenting that Ken is making “such a nice girl worry about him.” But as she lies in bed, a faint smile comes to Touka: Maybe Ken is just out there playing a role, taking the stage and making a big show, for a good reason.

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Whatever that reason, Ken has buried himself in his part. Like last week, we close with them about to start another operation: this time at Cochlea, a ghoul internment center in the 23rd Ward. What fresh devilry—or moral ambiguity—lurks within those  maximum-security ramparts? Where will Ken’s performance lead him next?

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